Fighting for Health Justice for Ethiopian-Israelis

1 May 2019

When Hadas Malada-Matsree arrived in Israel in 1988 at the age of four, she was barely alive. She was suffering from malnutrition and had contracted malaria in a refugee camp in Sudan. Upon arriving to Israel, she was taken straight to a hospital and spent the next six months in rehabilitation. That’s when she decided to become a doctor.

Years later, Malada-Matsree would graduate from medical school at Ben Gurion University in the Negev and serve as a medical officer in the IDF. Today, she practices family medicine and is a mother of four.

Known as Dr. Hadas, she has become a leader in fighting the Ministry of Health’s ban on blood donated by Ethiopian-Israelis, a policy she says is based on racial discrimination, and has no medical basis. Malada-Matsree organized a panel of Ethiopian-Israeli doctors to address the Ministry’s special committee on the issue, and an hour later, she received a phone call that the policy had been changed. While she has yet to see that change implemented, this was an eye-opening moment for her.

“After our work on the blood issue, I understood that there are all kinds of improper practices in the health system when it comes to our community, and that if we don’t come from the bottom-up to change them, then they won’t change,” says Malada-Matsree.

After meeting with Inbal Rada, an activist who founded a WhatsApp group for Ethiopian-Israeli nurses, Malada-Matsree helped found the Ethiopian-Israeli Health Promotion Forum, a group of over 400 doctors, nurses, and other health professionals from Ethiopian-Israeli backgrounds.

With the support of NIF and Shatil, the Forum works to fight racism and discrimination in healthcare, advance Ethiopian-Israeli professionals in the medical field, and promote healthy lifestyles in the Ethiopian Israeli community. Shatil’s Gidon Ambaya helped organize the group’s founding conference and organized a two-day training for Forum members to work on their vision, goals, and strategies.

“NIF and Shatil should be the face of Israel,” says Malada-Matsree. “They support amazing projects. When I’m in crisis-mode, Gidon lifts me up and helps me focus. We talk daily. He has been there for me every step of the way.”

As one of only 13 Ethiopian-Israeli doctors in Israel, Malada-Matsree credits her family with her success. “My 10 siblings and I got daily talks about how important education was,” she recalls.

“My mother showed up to school meetings, even when she didn’t understand a word.” Her father, a Prisoner of Zion, spent years imprisoned in Sudan and was tortured for his work in bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel. He also saved many children from dropping out of school and founded a community club. “My parents modeled social action for us,” says Malada-Matsree. “It came naturally to us.”

Photo credit: Eliav Mason